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Gently Dealing with My Daughter’s Crazy Irrational Fears

Big Kid. Scared of Wind.

Big Kid. Scared of Wind. Little One, Oblivious and Having Fun

Dealing with a child’s irrational fears is sort of like going through spiritual bootcamp.  As you go through it, you’ve found that you’ve experienced, denial, anger, frustration, compassion, patience, acceptance and, in the end, unconditional love.  Today, my 3 1/2 year old daughter touched a dog  Yes, TOUCHED a dog, as in willingly went up to it and pet it.  A year ago, if she had even saw a dog, from a mile away, she would have climbed up me like I was a tree and then leaped into my arms.

When the fears hit, there is no reasoning. There is no explaining. There is no telling her to ‘get over it‘.  She kicks her legs, makes a funny face and basically throws a sort of fear induced temper tantrum, sort of half moaning and half screaming the whole time.  It hasn’t always been a fear of dogs.  It used to be an intense fear that the moon was falling down. Fear of live performances. Fear of the vacuum. The blender.  The birds. The bird on the balcony.  And, currently, she’s insanely scared of things blowing away in the wind. Like, INSANELY scared.  Le sigh…  She’s not a nervous wreck all of the time, but she is a sensitive little one and has her moments.

I’m not into tough love. I believe in finding gentle ways to deal with kids when they are having an issue. It can *seem* like a huge pain trying to be patient while a child sorts through their fears, but I really believe that the little bit of patience and a ‘wait it out‘ mentality is worth it in the long run.

The very first thing I had to do when my daughter was terrified of something was to simply accept that they she was feeling that scared. Easier said than done… It’s really hard for us, as adults, to stop whatever activity we’re doing and change gears when a child starts to come unglued. But, it was really for everyone’s benefit for my husband and I to just face the fact that she was scared and that nothing was going to change, and then we could proceed from there.

For example, I once took Margo to go see a play. We got there late. We walked into a dark theatre. Five seconds in and she cried out, ‘I want to go home!!!‘ And, that was that. Never mind that we have arranged the whole day to go.  Never mind that we had talked about it on the drive there and she was very excited to go see it. I couldn’t have stayed in the theatre with a screaming two year old. So, I had to leave. At first, I was so angry that I wasted so much time and effort.  Once we got in the car, she asked to go back!!!  I said ‘NO‘ and she cried even more!  I’m pretty sure that I started crying too.  I was just getting used to dealing with this fearfulness thing, so ‘compromising‘ my actives, or the idea that I had in my head of what we *should* be doing, was all very new to me.  I had this vision of us enjoying the play, with her sitting on my lap and pointing at all the props and the actors, but, in reality, here I was, both of us crying on the drive home. Acceptance was the first and most difficult step.

Removal From the Situation for a Short Term Solution
Probably the quickest way to instantly stop her from being scared, was to just take her away from the thing that she was scared of (if I could). Of course, doing this doesn’t really help children to get over their frights, but it does temporarily fix the situation. So, if you absolutely need them to be calm, you can take them away, but know that fear will resurface later… read on.

Validating Without Exacerbating

It’s important to validate a child’s feelings and them know that you understand. Her fears may have seemed stupid to me, but to her, the fear takes over every ounce of her being and overrides all common sense.  I don’t go on and on and on talking about her feelings, just acknowledge them.

“Stop Being Silly’ or ‘It’s ok”
You can say these things, and a child may seem to calm down, but the underlying fear will still be there and will resurface later. You’re also not validating their emotions. So, potentially, down the track, a child may stop expressing his or her natural emotions.

Relaxation Techniques for children over 8
You can try doing some simple breathing, yoga or meditation with a child over 8.  Some calming essential oils, like lavender, is nice too. Doing simple relaxation  and stress reducing techniques with kids is more of  a long term and ongoing investment with lots of benefits. Eventually, they will learn to apply the stress relieving techniques to the stressful situation when they get older. Also, teaching them ways to deal with stress when they are young, will help them overcome obstacles when they are adults. Just by bringing awareness to how they’re feeling helps tremendously. The Art of Living Foundation offers excellent courses, which I have taught few of,  for children, that teaches life skills.

Letting the Emotions Rolls
When a child is having an extreme reaction, like crying, sweating, shaking, etc. They are actually healing themselves from the trauma being scared. You can’t always keep a child away from a scary situation and in fact, many psychologists expose a patient to the thing they are scared of (in a safe scenario) to help them have this emotional release through tears. Letting a child have a cry, with support, is probably one of the most beneficial things you can do!

Roll Playing
With Margo’s intense fear of dogs, I also did some roll playing with her and it was probably the technique that showed the fastest results. I pretended to be the dog and she pretended to be scared… Then SHE pretended to be the dog and I pretended to be scared. Roll playing should only be done if the child laughs (and then maybe cries afterwards), but if you are roll playing and the child seems to get even more frightened, then maybe best to modify the exercise or stop so that the roll playing does its job.

This Too Shall Pass
The mantra of all people who deal with kids.  What I’ve found is that the fears come and go.  The tendencies of a child change, and they change quickly.  I truly believe that the more we support our kids when they’re going through an intense time with fears, then the faster they will overcome them (however long that takes).  So, a reminder to myself and to all parents and carers who have to deal with a child’s intense fears… DEEP BREATHES!  More than half the battle to the irrational fear-factor is when we, the adult are accepting of the situation.  Once we can accept that a child is afraid of something, rather than continue on, in frustration (like we normally do), then we can move from a space of love and understanding and the ‘fear factor‘ becomes less of a struggle.

Disclaimer: For some kids, fears go a bit deeper. I’m certainly not a child psychologist. Sometimes a child’s fears could be deep rooted stress and have lots of other factors to consider, such as health, home life, diet, etc. Please seek professional help if you believe that your child is unusually anxious or nervous too often.

7 Responses »

  1. Another very helpful post, thank you! My daughter is almost 3 and has an intense fear of the vacuum cleaner, she hates having her hair washed, and lately she is afraid of going to the bathroom alone so I seem to be constantly dropping everything to run up and down stairs with her when she needs help. Like you say it is very hard for me to stay calm and try to understand her fear, but. I am determined to help her through it in a positive way.

    • So glad you found this helpful! I think the fears that you mentioned would seem fairly normal in my book? I’m pretty sure most kids don’t like to go to the toilet alone. Even Miss nearly 4 has only just been wanted to hop on by herself and she’s been potty trained for a really long time. She should grow out of it… one thing that has helped with the vacuum cleaner for the baby sister, is to wear her on me when I vacuum. I’ve always done it that way and she seems ok with it, but I think with my older one, I freaked her out a bit and I had to just vacuum when she was out on the balcony for quite some time before she was ok with it! Now, she grabs the vacuum from me and does it herself!

  2. Great post Kate and some wonderful tips. Glad being brave is working for her 🙂 Yes there is some evidence that parental encouragement of bravery produces better outcomes for anxious children in treatment (You can do it!”: The role of parental encouragement of bravery in child anxiety treatment. Jennifer S. Silk Journal of Anxiety Disorders, Volume 27, Issue 5, June 2013). I have also found this to be true in my clinical work where a big part of the treatment is helping parents learn how to respond, and how to help, when their child just isn’t coping.
    Also great that you mentioned the role of professionals for more persistent problems. If a child is afraid of a lot of things, or even just one, that interferes with them participating in things, and it has been a problem for more than a few months then perhaps some extra help is needed. A good psychologist will be able to help both the child and the parent better understand why it is happening and help them find some strategies that work for them.

    • Thanks for the response and your advice Julie! Yes, I don’t want to pretend like I know everything, these are just things that have worked for me. You should have seen Margo today at the boat harbour, there were literally a pack of about 10 dogs (nice cute fluffly ones) near the showers and all she did was look at them and say, ‘wow, there’s a lot of dogs running around’, but only had her eyebrows slightly raised, and I don’t blame her, because so did I!

      • Well done Margo!
        I think all of us just muddle through most of the time but it helps to have people like you writing about it and making the rest of us feel ok about it and sharing your experiences. I am not that prescious to think I know it all, even in my work I always tell parents they know their child best and work to find out what they think might work from my box of tools – just like you do with your blog 🙂

  3. I just came across this blog post and I’m wondering what happened later with your daughter’s fear of the wind. My 3.5 yo suddenly started being afraid of the wind, of trees falling/things getting blown away. Not sure what triggered it. Been trying to find ways to help her face/deal with the fear while acknowledging/reassuring her. It’s hard to avoid wind….even getting out of the car and crossing the street the other day was difficult. Your input is helpful though and nice to know you’ve walked the same path…

    • HI Jessie, Wow, I wrote that article such a while ago. I actually went back after you left your comment and did some editing. I’ve learned so much more about fears now! So, the biggest, most powerful way to help a child overcome a fear, is through laughter. Role playing is the absolute best. Since writing that post, my kids have had countless fears come and go, and the role playing/laughter has always gotten to that deep rooted fear. I also highly recommend reading a book called ‘Attachment Play” By Aletha Solter. That book was such a game changer for me. 🙂


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